I know it’s late but I realized I never posted my list of the best movies of 2019, so here it is, with a blurb for each movie!
20. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Story: I have a weird appreciation for a creator like Vince Gilligan who’s willing to go back to his masterpiece and tinker with it. We didn’t need to see what happened to Jesse Pinkman after Breaking Bad but the character deserved more than he got over the course of that show, and I’m happy Gilligan decided to show that to us. It’s the kind of thing that’s only possible in this modern age of television and filmmaking.
19. Dolemite Is My Name: The biggest Oscar snub this year may have been Uncut Gems, but Eddie Murphy is a close second for his wonderful performance in this great, funny, entertaining retelling of the life of Rudy Ray Moore and the making of the blacksploitation film Dolemite in the 70s.
18. Ford V Ferrari: If you’re doing a period piece about a car race, you already have my curiosity. Cast Matt Damon and Christian Bale as competing Car Dudes who inevitably become best friends and you catch my attention.
17. The Two Popes: This could have been ostensibly a stage play of Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce sitting in a Vatican room debating ecclesiastical affairs and it would have still wound up on my list. In actuality, it’s so much more. Perhaps bordering a little on propaganda for the Catholic church, but still refreshingly honest and even a little raw.
16. Booksmart: It’s almost unbelievable that this is Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut. The film is so well-made, the cast is fantastic and the story feels very modern but accessible. Probably the best pure comedy of the year!
15. Ad Astra: The film’s glacial pace might turn you off but I really appreciate James Gray refusing to sacrifice his vision of a single man’s personal journey throughout the vast expanse of the solar system to make a more marketable sci fi action film. And yet this isn’t just Brad Pitt’s space daddy issues, it’s also a really cool vision of a near-future human race that has finally embraced (and commercialized) space travel. There’s a Subway on the moon! How can you eat fresh where there’s no atmosphere!?
14. American Factory: Mark my words – documentaries exposing Chinese culture to Western audiences are going to dominate this decade. For a variety of reasons, films that show us what life for two billion people on the other side of the globe is like is essential, and American factory shows us how that culture is on a collision course with our own so well. This is easily the one documentary of 2019 that’s a must watch.
13. 1917: While I don’t agree with the criticisms of 1917 that paint its storytelling and character development as thin or vapid, it’s undeniable that what really sells the story that Sam Mendes inherited from his grandfather is the marvel of how it was made, from the cinematography to the production design to the music and everything in between. People have unfairly compared this to Call of Duty, when more fitting, narrative driven video game comparisons such as Uncharted and God of War exist.
12. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: With this and Can You Ever Forgive me?, Marielle Heller is quickly becoming one of my favourite directors, able to see past the flashy nature of the headline of a story and get to the nitty gritty of what makes the people it’s about tick. ABDITN could have easily been a shallow retelling of the life of Fred Rogers. Instead it’s a deeply moving story about the struggles of a man who happened to come across him in a time of crisis to interview him, and how his life was affected by their interactions. And what better movie about Mr. Rogers could there be than one where the effect he had on people is on prominent display, rather than the man himself?
11. Little Women: I experienced reticence going in to Little Women because Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird didn’t have the effect on me that it did on most. But her skill as a writer and filmmaker finally clicked with me about halfway through this film, at which point it becomes crystal clear how she’s able to bring characters and their motivations and struggles to life. Little Women has a brilliant, unique screenplay (for a film based on a book that’s been adapted countless times already) and a phenomenal cast that make it memorable and modernizes its message for present day.
10. Knives Out: I’ve been watching a lot of old movies lately, including noir films and murder mysteries, so Knives Out really hit the spot. I already liked Rian Johnson’s work, but any writer/director who recognizes an under-appreciated genre and decides to revitalize it (and also modernize it in fun ways) gets bonus points from me.
9. The Farewell: I feel like I have the same points to make about The Farewell as I had about American Factory, as it goes to great lengths to expose its audience to Chinese cultures and traditions (albeit in this case about family rather than work ethic). But this is also a phenomenal movie about family that anyone can relate to even if they can’t wrap their heads around the idea of keeping an illness from a loved one. In that sense The Farewell justifies itself really well and makes itself very accessible to audiences that might not share those customs, without sacrificing its uniqueness. Also, Awkwafina delivers one of the best performances of the year and should have been up for the Oscar.
8. Marriage Story: Marriage Story has been memed to death at this point since everyone got to see it on Netflix in December, but I think that’s really taken away from all the great aspects of the movie. The performances are what shine, of course (in another year or perhaps a parallel dimension we’d be talking about Oscar Winners Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson on top of Laura Dern), but the film also features fantastic writing and direction from Noah Bombauch, who not only finds a way to tell a very difficult story in an entertaining and moving way, but also manages to sneak in an adaptation of Sondheim’s Company in the middle of the film.
7. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum: Instead of ranting and raving about all the reasons I loved the 3rd John Wick, how about we just watch the knife museum scene again?
6. Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood: Similarly, my appreciation for Quentin Tarantino’s latest film could probably be best expressed by the gif below. But to be honest, there’s so much more to love about OUATIH. It’s much more fun than Tarantino’s last few films without sacrificing his trademark violence or what he’s learned in this late stage of his career as a filmmaker. He gets some of the best performances of of the careers of his actors and Brad Pitt was entirely deserving of the Oscar he won. And the way he recreated this era of Hollywood is a marvel to witness. But also, the gif.
5. Uncut Gems: Objectively the Oscars’ worst snub of the year, perhaps of the decade. A performance of this caliber from Adam Sandler is as rare as the jewel he’s after in the movie, and the tension and realism crafted by the Safdie Brothers was unmatched this year.
4. Avengers: Endgame: Every year gives us a new reason to stop being pretentious about superhero movies. You can have a legitimately good scifi movie like Logan, socially evocative films like Black Panther and Wonder Woman, but it’s also nice when one of them doesn’t lose sight of what they are, and manages to bring comic books to life better than any movie before them. Endgame is that movie. I will never not nerd out watching any number of scenes from this film, notably when all the heroes return and gather around a battered and bruised Captain America. I’d say that we’ll never see anything like it again, but this is Marvel we’re talking about.
3. Rocketman: Everything the objectively terrible Bohemian Rhapsody did wrong last year, Rocketman did right. It involved the agenda-less artist to tell as accurate a story as possible but also gave the film the flair and panache that artist has always deserved. This isn’t a biopic, it’s a musical. They actually put effort into the music and making this movie fun, and it’s actually Taron Egerton singing the entire time. Why this movie got left by the wayside last year will leave me perplexed for a long time.
2. Midsommar: I saw Midsommar late in its theatrical run completely alone in a dingy local theater and it was perhaps the best cinematic experience I’ve had in a good long while. The film is unnerving and scary despite being super bright, the violence is well-timed and perfectly gory, and Florence Pugh delivers a pitch perfect performance in the most disconcerting breakup movie of all time.
1. Parasite: You don’t need me to tell you why Parasite is good at this point, just go watch it. Instead I’ll just marvel at the fact that the Academy managed the seemingly impossible feat of awarding best picture to the consensus best movie of the year. The fact that they did it with a South Korean movie entirely in a foreign language is even more impressive. Question is whether is this the exception to the rule or the start of a new era. Hopefully the latter!
Best of the Rest: A list of all the other movies I enjoyed to a certain extent or another in 2019 and want to shout out but naturally didn’t fit in my top 20!
Us, Jojo Rabbit, Yesterday, Always Be My Maybe, The Last Black Man in San Fransisco, Late Night, Spider-Man: Far From Home, The Lighthouse, The Report, One Child Nation, Apollo 11, Glass, Cold Pursuit, Pokemon Detective Pikachu, Shazam!, Long Shot, Rambo: Last Blood, Aladdin, Alita: Battle Angel, Between Two Ferns: The Movie, High Flying Bird, Fighting With My Family, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, Stuber